Netanyahu’s lawyers had asked for a 45-day delay arguing their client had not received all the prosecution’s case material but public prosecutors opposed any delays and the court endorsed their position.
The request was "technical" and intended to give the defense time to examine investigative materials that it still had not received, Amit Haddad, one of Netanyahu's lawyers said.
Yet, the presiding judge wrote that the first session of the trial was a reading and the defendant’s response was not needed. There was thus no justification for a delay, he said, and the court ruled his trial will begin on March 17 as scheduled.
Likud’s party leader is accused of accepting US$264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons and of dispensing favors in return for favorable stories about him in Israel's biggest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, and the Walla website.
The most serious of the three cases allege that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors worth about 1.8 billion shekels (about US$500 million) to Israel's leading telecommunications company, Bezeq Telecom Israel.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a political witch hunt. He could face a sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
His legal situation was at the center of March 2 third general election in less than a year.
Chief opponent, Benny Gantz, refused to form a coalition government with him and appears to be pushing for legislation in the next parliament that would impede anyone indicted of a crime to lead a government.
The premier’s opponents control a majority of seats but apart from their common dislike of Netanyahu, deep divisions separate them.
Israel's longest-serving PM is desperate to hold on power as forming a new government would boost him politically and probably allow him to legislate a way out of his legal troubles.